We have a 1996 Coleman Cheyenne, one of the first years with an ABS roof. In this article I will discuss how I replaced the old, cracked awning rail with a new one. In another article I describe refurbishing the roof.
Replacing the Awning Rail
A few years ago the plastic awning rail started to open up and lose its grip on the awning bag. As a stop-gap I drilled some holes in the rail and drove screws through the top of the rail and into the bag bead. That worked for a couple years, but the awning rail continued to sag and crack. Time had come to replace it.
There were a couple challenges:
- How to remove the old awning rail? It was glued to the roof.
- How to attach a new awning rail? An ABS roof isn’t really meant to be screwed into.
- What awning rail to use? Metal? Plastic?
This is what I did (at the end of the article is a series of photos illustrating the procedure).
Removing Old Awning Rail
I considered a couple of choices:
- Pry up the old awning rail and hope the old adhesive lets go before it pulled up pieces of the roof.
- Admit prying up the old rail will damage the roof, so cut around the old rail so that as it pulls up the ABS skin it will do so cleanly
- Cut off only the C channel of the old rail, leaving the flanged base.
I initially tried #1, gently probing and prying at the old rail with a putty knife. My evaluation was if I was going to pry it up then I was going to damage the roof. I considered #2, but decided it was best to leave the roof as intact as possible, so I went with #3.
To facilitate cutting off the C channel I purchased an inexpensive Oscillating Multifunction Power Tool from Harbor Freight ($15 on sale!) along with the 3/4″ cutting blade. I did my best to cut the old channel off flush without gouging the base and was, for the most part, successful. Any cosmetic issues would eventually be covered up by the new rail or the Grizzly Grip coating.
Attaching New Awning Rail
Research on the web uncovered three techniques for attaching a new rail to the roof:
- Glue it on with a suitable adhesive. 3M 5200 Marine adhesive was the most commonly recommended.
- Bolt it on by drilling all the way through the roof and using bolts with nuts and washers on the inside.
- Screw it on by embedding drywall anchors into the roof (secured with Gorilla Glue)
I had some concern with #1 especially since it was unclear how well 5200 works with plastics. I initially considered #2, but decided I did not want unsightly washers and nuts on the inside of my roof. So I decided to go with a combination of #3 and #1 — belt and suspenders! Also the 5200 would act as a sealant (in addition to an adhesive).
The Awning Rail and Other Supplies
I considered three replacement rails:
Since the roof line curves I figured PVC would be more flexible (although I’m sure a metal rail would have enough flex). I also figured white PVC would look better than metal. One small issue I had was that the flanged PVC rails I found had a base that was a tad bigger than the base I had left behind from my old rail. I was concerned that that would leave a pocket for moisture to collect in. So I decided on the Flex-A-Rail from Sailrite since it was similar to the C channel portion of the old rail I had cut off. And since I was screwing and bonding the rail I was not overly concerned about the narrowness of the Flex-A-Rail base. Finally the screws are hidden in the C-channel improving appearance.
Update: After completing this project and using the awning with the new rail on a camping trip I would NOT use the Flex-A-Rail if I were to do this project over. The reason is that with the Flex-A-Rail the C-channel opening is perpendicular to the base of the rail (see photo at end of this article), while the old rail’s opening was offset more towards the side of the trailer. This means the awning bag bead bends at a sharper angle and the bag itself is about 3/4″ higher than before. I noticed on our camping trip that the horizontal awning poles no longer pressed completely on the flat face of the roof — instead resting a bit higher where the roof side starts to curve. These are not big problems, and I’m still happy with the repair. But if I were to do this over I would used the Flanged PVC rail mentioned above.
To save on shipping costs I ordered 44″ sections. Here is what I ordered from sailrite.com:
- 3 Flex-A-Rail White 44″ Long
- 3 10-pack 4 x 6 x 3/4″ screws (special small headed screws are needed to fit down in the rail).
- 1 #0 square head screw driver (the special screws need a square drive).
- 1/8″ drill bit
- 3/16″ drill bit
- Blue tape
- Measuring tape and pencil
- That square headed screw driver from Sailrite